According to “An Encyclopaedia of Parliament” by Norman Wilding & Philip Laundy (1958 Cassel & Co. Ltd.), “There shall be a select Committee of Public Accounts for the examination of accounts showing the appropriation of sums granted by Parliament to meet Public expenditures.
“The Committee shall have the power to send for persons, papers and records and to report from time to time. Its Chairman is usually a leading Member of the Opposition…. The Committee is assisted and advised by the Auditor General, who sits in the Committee in the capacity of permanent witness.
“The main function of [the] Public Accounts Committee and the purpose for which it was originally set up are to ensure that all public money is spent as Parliament intended.”
The most important accounts to come before the PAC are the Appropriation Accounts which DETAIL THE ANNUAL EXPENDITURE.
In this respect, if the Auditor brings to the attention of the PAC any expenditure which is in contravention to the Budget, the Auditor will then make it known to the PAC, who will advise the Minister. It will be tabled for the House of Representatives with copies to Members of the House– then it goes to the media (newspapers and Opposition papers by the Clerk).
The effectiveness of the Public Accounts Committee has frequently been criticized on the ground that it performs a post-mortem function. Perhaps the late Sidney Webb provided the right answer to this criticism when he said, “The fact that post-mortem examination does nothing to keep the patient alive is no proof that the existence of a system of post-mortems does not prevent murders!”
I was Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee of the House of Representatives from 1970 to 1974, and we used to take the yearly accounts to the House, signed by the Auditor — and then the newspapers would get ahold of it.
Alejandro Vernon, JP